Photon Android App Review: This Puzzler Needs Polishing
At a Glance
Photon is a futuristic match-three puzzle game designed in the drop-down style of Tetris. Your goal is to clear screens by connecting brightly colored discs with your finger. The app, developed by Bifrost Studios, is free on Google Play but requires an in-app purchase of $0.99 for full functionality. Unfortunately, while Photon is fun and addictive, it suffers from multiple performance issues that its designer needs to address.
Photon features simple, easy-to-learn gameplay that involves using both your finger and your device's accelerometer.
In the game, colored discs fall from the top of the screen, and roll and bounce around when they reach the bottom of the screen. Your goal is to connect discs of the same color by drawing lines between them with your finger. You can only connect discs if you have a straight shot (with no other discs in the way), and you must connect at least three discs to clear them from the board.
In addition to colored discs, silver discs containing symbols fall from the top of the screen. You can loop these special discs into any line of single-colored discs to clear them from the board. Some special discs have power-ups (for example, one will blast all discs of one color off the board), while others hinder you (for example, one swells up to take up more space).
Two buttons appear on the screen, near the top of the board: a drop button and a pause button. The drop button lets you flood the screen with discs quickly. Pressing the drop button gives you extra points, but you shouldn't use it if you're already running out of space. On the right side of the screen is a pause button.
Photon lets you choose between Classic mode and Arcade mode. Classic mode supports endless gameplay, and your goal is always the same: to keep your screen from filling up with colored discs. As you progress through Classic mode levels, gameplay becomes increasingly difficult because discs fall faster and additional colors appear.
In Arcade mode, your goal is to see how many points you can rack up within a specified period of time. Arcade mode also gives you access to different power-ups, such as a multicolored disc that lets you connect strings of two different colors. Arcade mode costs an additional $0.99, though you do get 10 free Arcade mode plays with your free version of Photon.
Photon has a couple of options that you can switch on in the main screen. The accelerometer allows you to tilt your phone from side to side to rearrange the discs. I found this option frustrating, for the most part, because the discs move very slowly when you tilt your device. The colorblind assistance option changes the discs into different shapes (but maintains the colors). This is a nice option for people who are colorblind, or who just want to change the look of the game.
Photon doesn't have a native leaderboard, but it does let you share your scores with friends via OpenFeint.
Graphics, Audio, and Performance
The game looked and sounded great on my Galaxy Nexus. Though it's a simple game, the graphics are high-resolution and Bifrost Studios clearly paid attention to the details--from the honeycombed background to the Tron-like glow emanating from the borders. The soundtrack is upbeat and adrenaline-inducing, and the sound effects are useful.
Though Photon looks great, its performance is less impressive. The app crashed often when I played it, though the crashes were usually limited to startup and didn't occur in the middle of play. Game mechanics and controls were sometimes sketchy. too: Among the issues I encountered were touchscreen lag, accelerometer lag, and glitches (such as invisible discs in the middle of the screen being selected). These drawbacks didn't prevent me from playing, but they were certainly frustrating.
The glitches and performance issues might affect users who want to play Photon on devices that run on single-core processors. On the positive side, the app isn't a battery hog and there are no annoying ads to worry about.
Though Photon is a great game, the app needs a little work before I can fully recommend it. In any case, however, the Classic mode, which is free, is well worth checking out.
This app was tested using a Samsung Galaxy Nexus running Android 4.0.2.
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